Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Fallacy in "Social Justice"

Gotta love Deneen.

...I am constantly struck by the strain implied in the combination of the words "social" and "justice." Justice, according to the ancient definition, is according to each what is due (whether desert or punishment). Justice thus - as the word suggests - requires judgment and discrimination. By this definition, justice is a thing pertaining to individuals - according to your actions you can and will be judged.

By contrast, adding the word "social" to justice implies that justice is a collective quality. Justice, it would seem, consists of treating everyone equally.

About 2o years ago, I was in a.....umnnnhhh..... discussion!!..... with a well-known senior priest (a good man, by the way, and orthodox) over precisely the confusion of which Deneen speaks. That priest, following JPII, was declaiming 'evil structures' in society. I demurred, objecting that 'structures' were not evil; only people could be evil.

Or perhaps better phrased, with the same end: a deficiency of "goodness" pertains only to people. Structures are easily defeated, or re-arranged, by good people for good ends. But those structures can remain obstacles only when good people choose to ignore the problem (or when bad people prevail.)

Here's the nub, articulated by Deneen:

Many... "justice issues" imply (without reflection on what justice is) that justice has the aim of achieving equality, particularly material equality. By implication, social justice incorporates the commitment to treating unlike things equally, and thus contradicts the classical definition of justice simpliciter. It's interesting to raise the question of what would be lost by removing the word "social" to the language of justice. It could be suggested that the addition of the word "social" allows one the appearance of a commitment to justice while in fact rejecting its substance

Of course it does. Marxist theory, feminist theory, "queer" theory, racial theory; all do precisely that. Whether rich/poor, female/male, homo/hetero...you get the idea.

It's just too much real WORK to work for "justice", rightly defined. (Even Plato couldn't resolve the question, as Deneen observes.) So rather than do all that hard work, just add "social"!!

That way, in the words of G K Chesterton, we can 'define the comparative without ever defining the superlative,' meaning that "justice" needs continual legislative and judicial refinement.

It's a jobs-program for politicians and judges, folks...


Headless Blogger said...

Thanks for the linguistic history lesson.

We've got lots of modern words for social justice. After all, it is just a term that was coined for saying communism or socialism in polite company.

I'm wondering if there is an ancient word that means "social justice." If I combine greed, envy and sloth, I think I get social justice. Is there a old word for that?

GOR said...

Yes, and this carries over into everyday life - whether in the workplace, the classroom or the boardroom. You constantly hear the mantra: "We have to treat everybody the same".

No, we don't. What we should be doing is treating everybody equitably...each according to his merits or deserts.

I have long inveighed in the workplace against generalized dicta to solve particular problems. Joe screws up, so an edict comes out from management that "everyone has to do better, avoid doing 'x' or whatever..."

I don't know if this comes from timidity, a reluctance to tackle the problem directly, avoidance of confrontation, a wrong-headed sense of 'equality' or fear of being viewed as 'discrimatory'.

But it is the wrong approach. If Joe screws up, deal directly with Joe! Anything else is problem avoidance, not problem resolution!

Dad29 said...

That "indirect management" style was used back when I was in corporate life, too.

Useless--particularly to the person who actually made the error.

My observation on that: the offender was generally a 'pal' of a high-ranking guy in the business; the manager who sent out generalized bulletins (or who could not confront the offender) was concerned about his/her relationship with the high-ranking guy.

So it was a game of cat-and-mouse, but mostly in 'politicized' environments.

Dad29 said...

HB: the combination would be a "tri-vice."

We could invent tripeccatum.

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